Monday, September 22, 2014

On Banning Books

This week is Banned Book week. Every year around this time, I find more books to read thanks to this list. The ones that end up on this list are typically raw and honest, and even if they fall flat for me, I can usually appreciate the truth in the work. Although I have to admit, E. L. James's 50 Shades of Grey is on the list for 2013, and while I sampled the first few pages, I couldn't find anything deeply honest about it, the writing was mediocre, and I didn't care for the main character. But that doesn't mean I think the book should be banned. People should have the right to sample a book and decide for themselves.

I've only read a couple of the books from the top ten of 2013, but one interesting trend I noticed is that seven of the ten books were banned due to being "unsuitable for age group." Now, there might be books I would steer my child away from because I might think he's not mature enough to handle it yet, but I wouldn't want that book taken out of the library or made unavailable to the public in any way, so when people do this, it leaves me flabbergasted. You could pick a dozen thirteen year olds at random, and all of them will have vastly different maturity levels. Some might be able to handle, for example, The Hunger Games, while it would give nightmares to others. But just because my child can't handle, let's say, jumping from a four foot perch on the playground equipment to the ground doesn't mean I think all kids his age should automatically be banned from doing so. There are plenty who could handle it, and some, like him, who couldn't.

A few months ago I had the pleasure of hearing Sherman Alexie speak at The University of New Mexico. His book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is one of my favorite books of all time, and it's also been banned. A lot. He seemed to take some pride in this. He also found the humor in it. The main character is a fourteen year old boy who… wait for it… masturbates. Shocking, right? It's the main reason people want the book banned, along with the depicted alcoholism and language, and I'm sure there are some other things that got people's knickers in a twist. But think about a teenager picking up the book and thinking, Hey, yeah, I'm not the only one going through this whole weird thing with my body and my family and my community! What a great feeling. Adolescence is so damn lonely to begin with that any little gesture that reaches out to someone should be encouraged, including reading a book that a person might identify with.

I find that as I strive to write more honestly, I delve deeper into things that make me uncomfortable, which might make readers uncomfortable. I think it's good to face one's discomfort and fears, loves and hates. But sometimes readers don't want to be uncomfortable. They don't want to look at the truth, and when you show it to them, they flip out. It's actually one of my dreams that someday I write something so profoundly honest and disturbing that people try to ban it.

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